Salpinctes obsoletus obsoletus

Status: Common regular spring and fall migrant west and west-central, rare east-central, rare casual east. Common regular breeder west, rare central. Rare casual winter visitor west-central.

Documentation:  UNSM ZM6601, 12 Jun 1901 Warbonnet Canyon, Sioux Co.

Taxonomy:  As many as 11 subspecies are recognized although those south of the United States are not well-delineated (Lowther et al 2020, Pyle 1997). Only two subspecies occur north of Mexico: obsoletus throughout most of the northern range including Nebraska, and pulverius of San Nicolas Island, California. Nebraska birds are obsoletus.

Spring:  Apr 11, 11, 12 <<<>>> summer

Earlier dates are 3 Apr 2003 Lincoln Co, and 5 Apr 2006 Dundy Co.

In northern parts of the breeding range, including Nebraska, Rock Wrens are migratory. Arrival is in mid-late Apr.

It is an uncommon to casual migrant away from breeding areas north and east to Brown and Blaine Cos; further east there are these reports: 11 Apr 2005 Stanton Co, 17 Apr 1994 Seward Co, 28 Apr 1993 Sarpy Co (Grzybowski 1993), 28-30 Apr 1996 Lancaster Co and at the same location in 1995 (Silcock 1996), 29 Apr-4 May 1965 Adams Co, 4-5 May 2011 Omaha, Douglas Co, 8 May 2021 Saunders Co, 10 May 1996 Sarpy Co, 13 May 1972 Adams Co, 14 May 2019 Calamus Reservoir, Loup Co, and 20 May 1967 Adams Co.

  • High counts:  50+ in Scotts Bluff Co 23 May 2003, 35 in southeast Lincoln Co 12 May 2006, and 30 south of Redington, Morrill Co 25 May 2005.

Summer: Rock Wrens are most common in the Panhandle and in the southwest in xeric, rocky areas.  Mollhoff (2016) shows the breeding range essentially west of a line from Dawes Co to Lincoln Co and south to Red Willow Co, excluding the western Sandhills. There are confirmed breeding records throughout this area, except for the Sandhills between the Niobrara and North Platte Rivers in Box Butte, southern Sheridan, and northern Garden Cos (Mollhoff 2016).  In the southwest, there are breeding records from the North Platte and Platte River Valleys south and east to Lincoln, Frontier, and Red Willow Cos (Mollhoff 2016).

In Lincoln Co and probably southwest Dawson Co, Rock Wrens are common in cedar canyons, utilizing dirt road cuts; 12-15 were in cedar canyons in Lincoln Co 15 Jul 2008. It nests regularly in the Lake McConaughy area, Keith Co, although cedar encroachment in recent years has reduced the population (Brown et al 2012). Breeding may occur in extreme southeast Logan and in Custer Cos, although there is no recent confirmation of this; there are older records of breeding in both counties (Youngworth 1955, Ducey 1988, Ducey 1989).

Rock Wrens have bred at Ashfall Fossil Beds SHP, Antelope Co, where young were fledged in 1992 (Gubanyi 1996, Grzybowski 1992); there are more recent reports there 5 May-6 Jun 2010. The breeding range once extended much further to the north and east, with records from Cherry and Brown Cos (Youngworth 1955, Ducey 1989). The presence of a small breeding colony near Sioux City, Iowa, in the late 1890s and early 1900s (Kent and Dinsmore 1996) suggests the Niobrara Valley as a route for birds to travel eastward. There are these records from northeastern Cherry Co: 16 May 2015, 23 Jun (James E. Ducey, personal communication), 6 Jul 2014, and 14 Jul 1977. A Rock Wren was seen near abandoned buildings in Brown Co in Apr and May 1982, but no evidence of nesting was observed (Brogie and Mossman 1983), and one was on rip-rap near Niobrara, Knox Co 21 May 1994. The only other breeding season report elsewhere was in Adams Co 16 Jun 2007.

  • Breeding Phenology:
    Nest building: 1 Jun
    Eggs: 31 May-24 Jul
    Nestlings: 2 Jun-30 Jul
    Fledglings: 22 Jun-15 Sep
  • High counts: 15 in Sioux Co 1 Aug 1996 and 12-15 in Lincoln Co 15 Jul 2008.

Fall:  summer <<<>>> Oct 12, 13, 13

Later dates are 15 Oct 2018 Dawson Co, 16 Oct 2014 Hitchcock Co, 20 Oct 2006 Chase Co, 26 Oct 2004 Chase Co, 26 Oct 2005 Hayes Co, and 26 Oct 2016 Dawes Co.

Most depart by early Oct, although there are wintering reports from the Lake McConaughy area (see Winter). Away from the breeding range migrants occur in Sep and early Oct.

There are 16 reports in the south and east away from breeding locations, suggesting some fall wandering; these range from 6 Sep-26 Oct, earliest 6 Sept 1979 Sarpy Co (Williams 1980) and 6 Sep 2005 Lancaster Co, and latest 12 Oct 2003 southeast Dodge Co, one seen 13-15 Oct and collected 15 Oct 1962 at Hastings, Adams Co (Nelson 1963), 15 Oct 2018 Dawson Co, and one at Pawnee Lake, Lancaster Co 26 Oct 2012. There is a specimen UNSM ZM11649 taken 21 Sep 1912 in Lancaster Co. The three Sarpy Co records were on or near railroad tracks which pass through Fontenelle Forest (Padelford and Padelford 1993); they may have been transported.

  • High counts: 17 in southern Sioux Co 20 Sep 2000, 17 in Scotts Bluff Co 15 Sep 2002, and 17 at Scotts Bluff NM, Scotts Bluff 7 Sep 2018.

Winter: An extremely late bird was at Lake McConaughy 21 Dec 2003 (Brogie 2005). Wintering may occur on the rocky south shore of Lake McConaughy, as one was there 18 Feb 2016 and was said to occur there “each winter on the rocks” (Jay and Ginger Belsan, personal communication). One was photographed at this location 31 Dec 2016 on the Lake McConaughy CBC. There are no other reports Nov-Mar. Lowther et al (2020) stated “Some individuals remain resident at northern limits of breeding range”.


CBC: Christmas Bird Count
SHP: State Historical Park
UNSM: University of Nebraska State Museum

Literature Cited

Brogie, M.A., and M.J. Mossman. 1983. Spring and summer birds of the Niobrara Valley Preserve, Nebraska: An annotated checklist. NBR 51: 44-51.

Brown, M.B., S.J. Dinsmore, and C.R. Brown. 2012. Birds of Southwestern Nebraska. Conservation and Survey Division, Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources, University of Nebraska—Lincoln, Lincoln, Nebraska, USA.

Ducey, J.E. 1988. Nebraska birds, breeding status and distribution. Simmons-Boardman Books, Omaha, Nebraska, USA.

Ducey, J.E. 1989. Birds of the Niobrara River valley, Nebraska. Transactions of the Nebraska Academy of Sciences 27: 37-60.

Grzybowski, J.A. 1992. Southern Great Plains Region. American Birds 46: 1151-1152.

Grzybowski, J.A. 1993. Southern Great Plains Region. American Birds 47: 426-429.

Gubanyi, J.G. 1996. 1992, 1993 (Fifth) Report of the NOU Records Committee. NBR 64: 30-35.

Kent, T.H., and J.J. Dinsmore. 1996. Birds in Iowa. Publshed by the authors, Iowa City and Ames, Iowa, USA.

Lowther, P.E., D.E. Kroodsma, and G.H. Farley. 2020. Rock Wren (Salpinctes obsoletus), version 1.0. In Birds of the World (A. F. Poole and F. B. Gill, Editors). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.

Mollhoff, W.J. 2016. The Second Nebraska Breeding Bird Atlas. Bull. Univ. Nebraska State Museum Vol 29. University of Nebraska State Museum, Lincoln, Nebraska, USA.

Nelson, B. 1963. Rock Wren at Hastings. NBR 31: 12.

Padelford, L., and B. Padelford. 1993. Rock Wren. NBR 61: 137.

Pyle, P. 1997. Identification Guide to North American Birds. Part I, Columbidae to Ploceidae. Slate Creek Press, Bolinas, California, USA.

Silcock, W.R. 1996. Spring Field Report, March-May 1996. NBR 64: 42-68.

Williams, F. 1980. Southern Great Plains Region. American Birds 34: 176-179.

Youngworth, W. 1955. Some birds of the Quicourt Valley. NBR 23: 29-34.

Recommended Citation

Silcock, W.R., and J.G. Jorgensen.  2021.  Rock Wren (Salpinctes obsoletus). In Birds of Nebraska — Online.

Birds of Nebraska – Online

Updated 9 Jun 2021